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How to claim for pothole damage to your car

Car close to a pothole

It seems you can’t go further than a few yards down the road without smacking into a pothole. But, in this case, you could be in the driving seat when it comes to getting payback.

Driving over a pothole is one of life’s great trials. They’re invariably positioned where you can’t avoid them because a car’s passing. Or, more likely, because it’s been raining and they look like puddles.

The good news is if your tyres burst, your exhaust drops or your suspension fails you could be entitled to some compensation. Here’s all you need to know about pothole claims.


What is a pothole?

Sounds like a silly question, but it’s not, because potholes are usually defined by their depth.

Most councils classify a pit in the road as a pothole only if it’s 40mm, around one and a half inches, deep and 300m wide (just under a foot).

If the hole has smaller dimensions than this it’ll probably be classified as a ‘carriageway defect’, which is the same thing, just under a different name.


How many potholes are there in the UK?

The Asphalt industry Alliance reckons the annual figure has gone up 200,000 to 1.7 million in 2020-2021. This indicates that the chances of dodging one is becoming increasingly scarce.


Who’s responsible for pothole damage to my car?

Local authorities have a responsibility to maintain all roads in your area.

English local authorities alone get a share of £500 million to fix potholes, which is enough money to fix 10 million potholes.

This is far more than there actually are, but as the cash was only released in February 2021, let’s give them time.

It’s worth bearing in mind that roads that cross several jurisdictions, such as motorways and A-roads, come under the charge of the following:

England: Highways England

Northern Ireland: Department for Infrastructure

Scotland: Transport Scotland

Wales: Traffic Wales.


How do I claim for pothole damage?

If your car is damaged as a result of running over a pothole, one of the four national authorities could be liable.

If, however, your car is damaged due to other debris on the road, you aren’t entitled to compensation. For this, you’d need to make a claim on your car insurance policy.

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What evidence should I gather on pothole damage?

If you’re planning to lodge a claim with the local authority here’s what you could do:

Gather evidence

Providing it’s safe to proceed, get as much evidence from the scene as possible.

Take photos of the pothole and measure the depth and width of the hole. Place something alongside and in the pothole to give it some perspective

You should also note:

  • The day and time of the incident

  • Any witnesses and their contact details

  • The location of the pothole on the road

  • The damage incurred to your car.

  • If you subsequently visit a garage and more damage is revealed, note that as well.


Report the pothole

Whether you decide to go through with a claim or not, it’s worth reporting the pothole to the authority so no one else gets scuppered by it.

Also, if you get a report and decide to make a claim, perhaps after visiting a garage, you’re in a stronger position than if you’d kept quiet.

If you’re getting nowhere with the local authority, report the pothole to FixMyStreet, and they’ll pass on the message.


Get car repair quotes

Don’t just rock up to the first garage you find and get them to fix your car.

Get quotes from at least three garages, detail records and go with the cheapest.

Showing willingness to keep repair costs down could help your claim.

Make your case

If you’re intent on making a claim, contact the local authority you reported the pothole to. Ideally, write to or call any contact you’ve made.

Ensure you stipulate upfront that you’re looking to make a claim.

Pass on a full description of the incident, when and where it happened, and what you’ve done since to address the damage to your car.

Add copies of photos, witness details, quotes and repairs for damage and any other details.

Note that your right to compensation has limits. You need to prove that the local authority failed in its duty to maintain the road, in accordance with Section 58 of the Highways Act 1980.


The local authority’s response

The local authority is under an obligation to respond you any claim lodged with them within 30 days. If they don’t, contact them again via the complaints department.

Chances are they ‘ll get back to you with one of the following reactions:

  1. The authority accepts your claim and covers all of your repair expenses. They probably won’t stretch to additional expenses, such as the need to use alternative transport if the car is out of action.

  2. The authority offers a partial settlement.

  3. The authority rejects the claim in its entirety.


Be willing to negotiate

If the local authority offers a partial settlement don’t balk at coming back with a counter argument.

Reaffirm the costs you’ve incurred directly as a result of the incident, and show again that you’ve shopped around for the cheapest repairs.


What if your claim is rejected?

If the damage to your car is little more than a burst tyre, you could take the hit and chalk if up to experience.

But if your catalytic convertor was scrapped, or the undercarriage rendered irreparable, the costs involved are likely to be high enough to warrant further consideration.

Taking the authority to small claims court is an option. It’s not cheap, but it’s an option.

Incidentally, if you’re suspicious, put in a Freedom of Information Act request to establish whether the council actually inspected the site. They’re required to do so, but might not have.

If the court route doesn’t appeal – and it can be pricey if you use a lawyer and lose – you could claim on your car insurance policy.

Note this would likely be considered an ‘at-fault’ claim, and most likely have a knock-on effect on your no-claims discount and future premiums.